Relationships are connections of two or more people that are an important source of emotional support and comfort in most people’s lives. Whether they are romantic, familial or professional in nature, relationships enhance a person’s sense of belonging, purpose and self-worth.
People experience discord in most relationships at some point. In such cases, relationships sometimes can be stressful and difficult to manage. Conflicts and disagreements can be a major source of stress in a relationship.
Mental health professionals, such as psychologists or licensed family therapists, can help people cope with and often overcome relationship difficulties. These mental health experts can help educate patients about healthy ways to improve communication skills and approach common problems in relationships including divorce issues, blended families and conflicts about child rearing.
However, people do not have to be experiencing problems in a relationship to seek counseling. For instance, marriage counselingcan also help couples who simply want to strengthen their bonds and learn skills to solidify their relationship.
In addition, there are many things individuals can do to promote open communication and restore intimacy in a relationship. Coping tips for healthy relationships include:
- Treating each other with kindness and respect.
- Being a good listener as well as expressing personal feelings and thoughts when appropriate.
- Working together to resolve conflicts in a positive way, such as by talking in an objective, non-accusatory manner.
- Actively nurturing a relationship by spending time together engaging in enjoyable activities.
- Having a positive outlook and finding humor in life.
- Having realistic expectations of each other.
Relationships, or connections of two or more people, can take many forms. Regardless of the type (e.g., romantic, familial, professional), these associations generally enhance a person’s sense of belonging, purpose and self-worth as well as promote mental well-being. Relationships are also an important source of emotional support and comfort in most people’s lives.
These associations can provide individuals with comfort in times of stress. Relationships can also help people cope better with health problems and other difficult situations including divorce, job loss or the death of a loved one. Simply talking with friends, relatives or other loved ones can enhance a person’s emotional well-being.
For patients with mental illnesses, such asmajor depression or substance abuse, these connections can be especially important because family members and other loved ones can try to help a patient seek proper treatment (e.g., psychotherapy, medication treatment). However, many relationships are strained when one person is affected by some form of mental illness, such as depression.
Developing and maintaining healthy social ties involves reciprocity (give and take). This typically requires considering the feelings of everyone involved. Another way to nurture relationships is by letting significant others, family members and friends know that they are loved and appreciated. This can help ensure that they continue being supportive, especially during difficult times. Open, honest communication also contributes to healthy relationships. Developing trust is another key factor – one that usually encourages open communication. Being expressive is one way to nurture trust in a relationship and let one person know that they can confide and depend on another. Good communication skills are important because they can enable a person to handle conflicts within a relationship in a positive way and without alienating a loved one.
Coping tips for relationships
Despite their vital importance in life, relationships can sometimes be stressful and difficult to manage. Conflicts and disagreements, which are often inevitable, can be a major source of stress in a relationship. However, conflict and how it is handled can be a major indicator of the health of a relationship.
Coping tips for healthy relationships include:
- Treat each other with kindness and respect. Disagreements may not destroy relationships. However, name-calling, put-downs, threats and other forms of abusive behavior can cause irreparable damage to a relationship.
- Be a good listener. Listening to one another’s concerns and complaints without judgment is sometimes all that is necessary. Showing empathy and acknowledging one another’s thoughts and feelings is also important.
- Express personal feelings and thoughts. This is crucial in attaining open communication in a relationship. People are not mind readers and it is also best never to assume anything. When in doubt about a particular subject or situation, discuss it in an open and honest manner.
- Work together to resolve conflicts in a positive way, such as by talking in an objective, non-accusatory manner. This can be achieved by using “I” statements such as “I felt hurt by what you said at the party,” instead of “You never support me in front of other people.”
- Brainstorm solutions that are agreeable for everyone and work to solve problems as they arise. Passive-aggressive behavior that concentrates on avoiding arguments can lead to feelings of anger and resentment.
- Think before speaking. This can help one avoid saying something that may later be regretted. If necessary, take some time to calm down by leaving the situation, going for a walk or listening to soothing music.
- Actively nurture a relationship by spending time together engaging in enjoyable activities. Relationships take work and time to develop. Balance personal and work time to avoid being constantly focused on one or the other.
- Have a positive outlook. Try to find humor in people, places, situations or things. This can diffuse anger, improve mood and make life more enjoyable.
- Forgive, if possible, and do not hold grudges. Because certain things may be unforgivable to some people (e.g., infidelity, stealing), each person has to decide if that line has been crossed and the relationship is worth continuing. If it is, involved parties have to recognize that the past cannot be changed. No relationship can recover from past disappointments and mature unless both parties can find a way to let go of grudges.
Also, apologize when mistakes are made. Willingness to make up after an argument is important if the relationship is to continue.
- Expand the support network. Building strong, positive relationships with family members and friends outside of the relationship can be an important source of support as well as diversion for everyone involved.
- Have realistic expectations for everyone. Most people have limitations on what they can accomplish, given their resources and the time available.
- Take care of personal needs. This can be accomplished by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, getting proper exercise and rest as well as engaging in personal hobbies and pursuits. Maintaining health and taking care of personal needs is conducive to happiness, which in turn, can enrich one’s relationships.
In some cases, relationships may require the help of a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, who can act as mediator and offer insight and practical advice.
Counseling, such as family therapy and couples therapy or marriage counseling, can help people deal with difficult situations in their relationship, including divorce issues or a loved one’s mental illness (e.g., schizophrenia). This therapy treats the family or couple as a whole instead of the individual, with a focus on relationship dynamics (the interaction of its members).
Other issues or situations that can cause stress in relationships for which counseling may be beneficial include infidelity, finances, communication difficulties, conflicts about child rearing, substance abuse, same-sex relationship issues, cultural clashes, blended families, sexual difficulties, infertility, anger and changing roles, such as retirement. Healthy relationships may also benefit from some forms of therapy. For instance, marriage counseling can help couples who simply want to strengthen their bonds and learn skills to solidify their relationship.
Helping a loved one cope with relationships
Individuals experiencing problems in their relationships may need family and friends to confide in when they are angry, upset or unhappy with their situation. In such cases, friends and other loved ones can be an important source of support.
Tips for helping a loved one cope with relationship issues include:
- Spend time with them and listen to their concerns or issues. Sometimes being a good listener may help alleviate a loved one’s stress.
- Do not ignore signs of abuse. These can include unexplained bruises, broken bones, sprains or other types of marks that may indicate physical abuse. Behaviors including withdrawal from friends or family and mood changes such as increased anxiety or depression may also indicate an individual is in an abusive relationship.
- Encourage the person to express their feelings and thoughts. Avoid being judgmental when they open up about their experiences and feelings. Also, encourage them to communicate openly with their significant other or loved one.
- Encourage them to engage in recreational and social activities, such as pursuing hobbies or socializing and having fun with friends. This can help relieve tension and improve mood.
- Suggest they seek help from a mental health professional. This is important because sometimes individuals may not recognize they need help to sort out their relationship issues, or are unaware of the availability of counseling services.
Resources for coping with relationships
Everyone can benefit greatly by becoming informed about healthy ways to improve communication skills and enhance intimacy in relationships. This can also help people realize that their feelings and issues are often shared by many individuals in various types of relationships. People can find information on relationship topics, such as communication and sex, on the Internet and in various books on such topics available at local libraries and bookstores.
Support groups, which provide members with emotional and moral support, can also offer individuals practical advice and tips for coping with relationship issues. Health care professionals, such as physicians, nurses, social workers or psychologists may be able to provide referrals for support groups.
People may also benefit from mental health therapy (e.g., family therapy), which can help individuals, couples and families address and often overcome relationship difficulties. Hospitals, places of worship, museums, community centers and other organizations often need volunteers. Volunteering for community service projects can be a satisfying and productive way for families and others in relationships to have fun and feel closer to each other.
Questions for your doctor
Preparing questions in advance can help patients have more meaningful discussions with their physicians regarding their conditions. Patients may wish to ask their doctor the following questions regarding coping with relationships:
- How can I discuss problems with my significant other without becoming overly upset or angry?
- How can I teach my loved one to control his/her anger better?
- I am going through a difficult divorce. How can I help my children cope with the situation?
- I have tried all I can to make things better between my significant other and myself without much success. Does this mean our relationship is doomed?
- What can I do to improve communication in my marriage?
- Will marriage counseling help my situation?
- How can I convince my partner to see a therapist with me?
- I have tried all your previous suggestions for dealing with my relationship and I’m still having problems with my partner. What else do you recommend for my situation?
- What is the best way to ensure that old issues don’t keep coming back in our relationship?
- Is there a way I can avoid repeating bad patterns from previous relationships in future ones?